In the era of Covid-19, adopting a comprehensive disclosure policy may make senior life providers more vulnerable to unnecessary attention from local media, residents, or their families. However, although proactive and transparent communication methods may cause short-term headaches in an already stressful period, this is now critical for building long-term trust.
At the beginning of the pandemic, as news of confirmed Covid-19 cases began to surface, newspapers across the country were flooded with headlines about high-profile cases. According to a March 27th report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the time, no one was better known than the outbreak of a life-care center facility in Kirkland, Washington, which eventually caused at least 129 people to become sick.
At the beginning of this pandemic, some senior living providers were worried that any disclosure of confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 could scare potential residents, investors, or both. However, this fear is worth it. Covid-19’s news reports usually include negative and frightening headlines, as well as news about the outbreak of senior housing and care communities, while reporters tend to merge senior residences and nursing homes.
However, within a few weeks after Kirkland’s news swept the country, senior life service providers learned more about the exchange of information in the global pandemic and began to educate the media and tell their stories more confidently. Wujek for Glynn Devins. Glynn Devins is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, and works with approximately 300 senior living communities at any given time.
Providers like Bickford Senior Living are using a transparency model and relationships with media agencies. Considering all the other challenges facing the lives of older people today, it still seems risky and challenging to do so. However, if healthcare providers ignore this aspect of their response to a pandemic, the industry may suffer long-term damage.
Indeed, Dwayne Clark, CEO of Angus Life, said at SHN TALKS on Tuesday that the elderly are fighting the three aspects of war, fighting the virus, trying to maintain the financial stability of the enterprise, “Solve a huge public relations problem.”
Deal with confusing news
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the main complaint that has been reported by many senior living providers was local media did not understand it. Reporters and editors wanted to warn readers of the most infected places, but it was easy to draw pictures full of Covid-19 nursing homes and elderly communities.
That is particularly common in states that publicly disclose which high-end housing communities have gotten infected, usually during the daily or weekly briefing with members of the press. Although this public information may make providers quite nervous. The Affinity Living Group felt that these announcements could help call troops and the public when needed.
However, when writing stories that focus on the total number of infections, even if all their facts and data are correct, journalists often miss essential nuances about the communities that they have written about. Some general-report reporters do not seem to understand the difference between the skilled nursing industry and the senior living industry. Although there are significant differences, they still confuse the two.
For Robyn Frankel, this is the cause of recent frustration. Robyn Frankel’s St. Louis-based marketing company Frankel Public Relations oversees the minority Newsletter for senior customers.
For providers, seeing the misleading or inaccurate reports in the industry could make them ignore reporters’ inquiries, especially during the already busy and chaotic period. Katie Adkisson, a partner at Reed Public Relations, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, said that doing so would lose the opportunity to educate journalists and potentially change the broader process dialogue.
Adkisson recommends using protocols and transparent command chains when media queries appear. Providers or their representatives should not be defensive in their presence but should respond politely and patiently. Adkisson said that the deadline for journalists is also vital to ensure that you can answer all their questions promptly.
Bickford Senior Living showed the latest example of this approach. The Olathe, Kansas-based company adopted an utterly transparent policy in the Covid-19 pandemic and is committed to displaying the number of active Covid-19 cases in each of its communities on the site’s website.
Proactively increasing transparency can also help providers make better arguments when telling stories. Moreover, it prevents the public from viewing it as something hidden.
Of course, sometimes reporters make mistakes. In this case, the record must get corrected as soon as possible, Adkisson said. However, if a story is correct but negative or exciting, then many things must be done at the end of the day.
Communicate clearly and often
For senior life operators, owners, and lenders, Covid-19 is worrying, but it is even more so for vulnerable residents and their families. Even if providers develop better strategies for interacting with the media, their communication and public relations strategies must also consider consumers and other stakeholders.
Residents, their loved ones, or senior cohabitants may have questions about what measures healthcare providers are taking to ensure their safety, or whether there are any new infections in the community. In recent weeks, many providers have started sending emails daily or weekly to make everyone in the community aware of Covid-19. Increasing personal style is a good habit, especially when dealing with residents or their families.
Choosing the right medium for outbound communication can also save the provider’s future work. For example, the Canterbury Court of the Atlanta District Life Planning Community, which partnered with Glynn Devins, found that households using an automated “robocall” telephone messaging service to update their Covid-19 situation resulted in more inbound calls than expected.
Senior survival companies should not forget to inform the public about what they are doing during the pandemic. Many providers have adopted a method of creating unique landing pages or sections specifically for Covid-19 on their websites. If the provider has sound internal processes, social media can get added to the portfolio.
Transparency is also essential when dealing with ownership groups or investors. Although this may result in more scrutiny, failure to do so may leave the provider in a defensive state from the beginning.
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